Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Ephesian Disciples


This is a follow-up to previous messages regarding the Holy Spirit.  There has certainly been a lot of discussion concerning the Holy Spirit, historically...and in our fellowship of believers as well. I believe that Paul makes it very clear in His letter to the Romans (8:9, et. al.), letter to the Ephesians (1:13-14, et. al), letter to the Corinthians (3:19, 6:19), that the understanding of the Spirit's nature and His power is a critical subject for believers...and, in fact, could very much be the difference in relationship to a person's salvation.

In Acts 19:1-7, Paul "providentially" connects with several disciples at Ephesus. Just as Priscilla and Aquila apparently had discussed Christian baptism with Apollos (Acts 18:24-26), so Paul does here with these men. He asks them if they had received the Holy Spirit when they believed -- i.e. were converted, baptized. Paul apparently already expected them to have the Spirit...and this would be consistent with Acts 2:38-39 and every other Christian baptism related in Acts.  But, these believers had only received the baptism of John…for repentance. The message concerning baptism is clear here and Paul baptizes them; they receive Christian baptism -- a water and Spirit birth (see Jesus and Nicodemus, John 3:1-8). Now while Paul goes on to give these disciples a special, exceptional dispensation of power from the Spirit for this time, the point is, these disciples still had the same conversion experience that every Christian has in coming to the Lord. (See 1 Corinthians 12:13). Once again, Paul asks the Ephesians if they "received the Holy Spirit" when they believed (v.2)...not whether they had received some miraculous gifts from the Holy Spirit, or that the Holy Spirit was synonymous with some miraculous gifts. The assumption of v.3 is that they are to be baptized with a Christian that includes the Holy Spirit and not to simply settle for John's baptism. For the Ephesian disciples, the spiritual gifts that they received would come as the result of the laying on of hands by Paul (as with Timothy, 2 Tim 1:6, etc, receiving certain gifts of the Spirit).

It is interesting that the baptism of John was not sufficient, but why would it be? It was administered by John the Baptist under the Old Law. Christian baptism involves not only repentance, as did John's baptism, but also the receiving of the indwelling Holy Spirit. This is primarily what separates the two baptisms.  It's pretty difficult to live according to the fruit of the Spirit -- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control -- if we don't really acknowledge, understand, or trust the source. On many occasions, I have heard Christians talk about Acts 2:38, as Peter says " baptized for the remission of your sins..." and this is it. Is it? Is the part concerning the Holy Spirit just an oversight? Is it assumed? Or, is it intentionally omitted? (Is it really even understood?) I have been concerned for some time that there are some in our fellowship that have, in effect, taught John's baptism in the place of Christian baptism much to the detriment of many believers.  So, some believers have inadvertently received the baptism of John -- at least in language -- but hopefully not intent.

The question remains -- why take the chance? The power of Christian baptism should be sufficient for us. We need to talk about it as Peter shares it right from the text…there is nothing to lose, but everything to understand and gain as it relates to the Christian walk. I will say this -- I wouldn't have much of a chance to walk upright, blameless or spiritually for the Lord without the help of His Spirit to guide me along the way. He is our guide, not in an arbitrary, controlling sense, but quietly, indirectly. We are not robots, but free moral agents with freedom of choice. The Spirit uses the Word to teach us and help us (Ephesians 6:17), and helps us in our prayers (Romans 8:27).  He also is our seal so that when the Lord comes again, He will identify those who are His by whether they have His Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14, etc.).  There certainly had to be a wonderful transformation for Apollos and the Ephesian disciples as they would continue to grow in knowledge, wisdom and experience with and in the Lord…as it should be for all of us.

Blessings, Don

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